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Belmont Receives NSF CAREER Award to Study Wildfire Emissions

January 8, 2019
Two women discuss biomass materials in a mechanical engineering lab
Erica Belmont (left), an assistant professor in UW’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, received a National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER award. She will use the award to study wildfire emissions and how they change the atmosphere. Here, Belmont works with Emily Beagle, an NSF Graduate Research Fellow recipient, in finding productive uses for lodgepole pine trees killed by pine beetles. (UW Photo)

A University of Wyoming researcher received a big boost to help her study wildfire emissions and how they change the atmosphere.

Erica Belmont, an assistant professor in UW’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, hopes to shed some light on the subject through a $525,238 Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) award she will receive later this year from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Belmont will receive the funding for her project, titled “CAREER: Bridging the Gap from Biomass Burning and Wildfires to Atmospheric Pollutants.” The grant runs May 1 through April 30, 2024.

“With it, we will study the production of emissions from wildfires and work to understand how those emissions transform in the atmosphere,” Belmont says. “These insights are important because such emissions can have significant impacts on climate and health, but their production and transformation are currently not well understood.”

The outcomes of the research are anticipated to aid in forest management decisions and climate modeling as the products of biomass burning are better understood, she adds.

Much of the research will be conducted in Laramie, but Belmont anticipates traveling around the state and region to take field measurements and collaborate with colleagues at UW and other institutions.

Spreading Knowledge

As part of the NSF CAREER award, Belmont will conduct some public outreach.

“I will participate in high school summer outreach programs at UW, and incorporate the subject matter and findings of our research into my teaching in these programs,” Belmont says.

The CAREER Program offers the NSF’s most prestigious awards in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations. Such activities should build a firm foundation for a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research.

“I greatly appreciate the National Science Foundation and the support provided through this award,” Belmont says.

The Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transport Systems within the NSF recommended Belmont for the award. Budgeted over five years, the grant funding will support graduate students to conduct the research, as well as travel costs and supplies.

Belmont’s research team, called the Belmont Energy Research Group, is currently involved with ongoing research projects that focus on low-pressure flame characterization, biomass utilization, supercritical extraction and renewable crops for developing countries.

Belmont’s areas of expertise include combustion; solid fuels, such as coal and biomass; alternative fuels; renewable energy; and experimentation.

She received her Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas-Austin; and her master’s degree in mechanical engineering and her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, both from Tufts University in Medford, Mass.

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